Pupils should be given a voice and the vote

8th April 2016 at 01:00

I recently stood for election and did reasonably well. With a manifesto of more money for education, better hospital care for old people and the inclusion of sweet-potato chips on every school-lunch menu, I won over the electorate with a total of 52 votes.

It was, however, a mock election organised by a third-year modern studies class – I won’t have to take up the post of first minister.

It’s difficult not to be impressed by the diligence and care that pupils display with elections. They identify the key issues, read the biographies of the candidates and research the manifestoes of the political parties – and only then do they make their choice. Some pupils know more about the political process than many adults.

Not only do young people take the democratic process very seriously, but also many actually want to vote and participate in elections and referendums. Pupils already have the vote for school councils and student parliaments, and the Scottish Parliament’s decision to lower the age of voting to 16 has been applauded as an excellent step forward for political engagement and democracy.

Our 16-year-olds were able to vote in the independence referendum and can do so in next month’s elections to the Scottish Parliament – but they won’t have a vote in the forthcoming EU referendum or any future Westminster elections.

Scotland can teach other countries a lot about reducing political apathy and the benefits of extending the franchise to younger voters.

Young people should have the right to vote in all elections. So many key issues and concerns – including finance for education, the rising cost of going to university and reductions in youth services – have significant relevance for today’s teenagers.

The other pertinent attribute that pupils bring to elections is that they are not afraid to say what they think. Numerous surveys have shown that our young people have a greater appreciation of diversity, and greater levels of tolerance, than their parents.

Having a voice, and a vote to go along with it, certainly boosts their social confidence.

Teenagers also have their own problems to contend with, such as online bullying and excessive assessment pressures in National 5 and Higher courses. Who better to articulate these problems than young people themselves?

The election of 20-year-old Mhairi Black to Westminster last year was a real boost to the UK parliament’s credibility in the eyes of young people.

Voting provides useful real-life lessons on assessing competing views and what sort of society we should have.

In subjects like modern studies, pupils explore the role of our elected representatives and pressure groups, and the influence that international politicians have.

Which reminds me, I have to prepare my next bid for political office – there’s a (mock) US presidential election afoot, and I reckon I’m the man to stop the Donald Trump bandwagon.

John Greenlees is a secondary teacher in Scotland

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